This time of year, many Alaskans are focused on Juneau. That makes sense, given the important decisions being made in our capitol, including funding for education from preschool through to the University of Alaska. While we are concerned about the uncertainty around our budget, we are not uncertain about our commitment to those who really matter to all of us at the University of Alaska – our students.
That’s because this is the time of year when thousands of UA graduates will cross a stage, receive their diploma and move out into the world. We celebrate these impressive men and women and their achievements at every level – from occupational endorsements to doctorates – and I am proud of each and every one of them for their success.
Earning a workforce endorsement or college degree requires hard work and dedication, and it is the university’s job to make the student experience as valuable, rewarding and efficient as possible. We’re not always perfect, but we are committed to providing an exceptional experience for our students as they prepare for their chosen profession and for success in an increasingly competitive world.
To enable prospective students to explore the entire UA system for the program best suited to their interests we’ve created an accessible website to open all the options available at UA. Through this new virtual gateway, prospective students can create a profile and explore programs at any or all of UA’s campuses. Regardless of whether a student is new to higher education or has attended before, myfuture.alaska.edu provides information on choosing a degree, transferring credits, navigating programs, finding financial support and other resources to help them on their higher education journey.
Along the way, our students will find opportunities for real world experiences both inside and outside of the classroom that are unique to Alaska and made possible by our many partnerships with local employers. Pilot training, nursing and mining internships, and more are all a part of the UA experience. In Anchorage, UAA students in our Data Science and Artificial Intelligence program will soon be able to participate in an academic partnership with one of our state’s premier financial management firms.
In Fairbanks, UA partners with the mining industry – a major driver of the Alaskan economy. Teck Red Dog asked the university for help on mineral recovery and water remediation issues, and we responded. Multiple mines also partner with UA on federal grant research, which has led to the development of the nation’s first mill operator occupational endorsement program, as well as a mill simulator for training.
In Kenai and Delta, our Mining and Petroleum Training Service program, in partnership with scores of businesses, has provided more than 100,000 Alaskans with training and development or new occupational skills to meet the growing need for highly skilled resource development workforce.
The university has a long history of serving both the educational needs of students and the workforce needs of the state through career and technical training. We’ve reduced tuition in more than 300 of these courses to encourage more Alaskans to gain these valuable skills. These programs are also ideal for employers looking to cost effectively develop employees’ skills and for individuals looking to change careers or increase their credentials.
These are just a few examples of our commitment to the state and its goal of 65% of working-age Alaskans having a postsecondary credential by the year 2025. To reach this goal, we are committed to serving all students: those new, returning or continuing their post-secondary education. And we are committed to doing so in innovative ways, including affordable, high quality online programs.
UA looks to the future with optimism and vision. So let me give you a sneak peek at what UA might look like in 2040. At www.alaska.edu/ua2040, we visualize that future. The interactive website demonstrates how UA puts its complete focus on meeting our students’ educational interests through innovative programs that meet needs and create opportunities for a strong future for Alaska.
UA is working hard to modernize, to be more user-friendly and accessible to students and employers in all parts of the state including updating our administrative functions. In early May, we announced a redesign of our human resources services by consolidating four administrative human resources offices into one. A single HR office with key staff at each university will improve service and reduce costs through process standardization, improvement, and automation.
Despite year after year of funding cuts from the state, the University of Alaska is strong. We are the state’s largest source of a skilled workforce, from nurses, accountants and engineers to educators and project managers. We lead the world in Arctic research and we serve Alaskans all across the state with practical knowledge about agriculture, fish processing, and a host of other topics that are important in our daily lives.
Yes, the university has many challenges, including uncertainty about our state funding. But as Alaskans have done for literally thousands of years, we face our challenges with certainty in our commitment to provide our people the skills, the knowledge, and the drive to build the Alaska we all want. So while we await decisions from Juneau, I ask that you join your university in celebrating our graduates with confidence that they are prepared to lead the way to Alaska’s future.
Jim Johnsen is the president of the University of Alaska.